The Current

Advocacy News + Updates

Throughout our Recipe for Change campaign this summer, we’ll be sharing stories about slavery in Florida’s tomato fields. We are grateful to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers for providing this story.


Adan’s Story

Adan is an indigenous Mayan farmworker from Mexico whose first language is Mixe.  In Adan's home village, there were no jobs, and he owned no land.  With a family to feed, including a child with leukemia needing specialized medical care, Adan joined three friends in 2001 on a journey to Florida in search of work.  

When he and his friends arrived in Lake Placid, Florida to harvest oranges, the boss told them upon arrival they would be beaten savagely if they tried to leave. Housed in a filthy barracks-style labor camp, sleeping on bare mattress, Adan worked eight to twelve hours a day, six to seven days a week, along with hundreds of other pickers.    

The bosses  paid in cash, and kept the work crew in debt. They deducted from the workers' minimal pay for the ride to Florida, food, rent, work equipment like picksacks, rides to the groves, and what little pay remained was to be spent in the bosses' store in the center of Lake Placid. Adan said of that time, "When you're there, you feel like the world is ending. You feel absolutely horrible."  

Late one night, the bosses attacked drivers from a taxi-van service that gives rides to farmworkers leaving the area for other jobs.  The bosses held up the passengers at gunpoint, brutally pistol-whipped and assaulted the taxi-van drivers, and shattered the windows in the vans with a metal pole. A witness contacted the police and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). CIW members' first opportunity to step onto the labor camp and speak with Adan and the other workers held against their will was on Palm Sunday, 2001. On Easter Saturday that same week, Adan and his friends made their escape, with the help of the CIW. A U.S. Department of Justice investigation ensued. Adan and his friends courageously testified in federal court, resulting in their bosses being sentenced to 15 years each in federal prison on slavery and firearms charges.  They had employed more than 700 workers in Florida and North Carolina. 

Once free, Adan expressed, "Once you're back here on the outside, it's hard to explain. Everything's different now. It's like dying, and being re-born. It's like coming out of the darkness into the light." 

Adan and his friends not only testified against their captors, but also became active members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Adan rode the bus, slept overnight in churches, and spoke at campuses across the country in the nationwide CIW Taco Bell Truth Tour, a tour which resulted in the landmark agreement with YUM/Taco Bell. He testified at the request of the U.S. Congress in a briefing on modern-day slavery in U.S. agriculture. He assisted in the making of the anti-slavery documentary Dreams Die Hard. Adan worked not only for his own freedom, but went on to fight to eliminate the underlying conditions that give rise to forced labor in the fields.  

© Coalition of Immokalee Workers


Today the nation's largest retailers in the fast-food and food-service sectors have joined the CIW's Fair Food Program, a joint effort with farmworkers and Florida's largest tomato growers to confront egregious abuses on Florida's tomato farms.  Chains like Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, McDonald's and Subway have agreed to buy Florida tomatoes only from suppliers that comply with the Fair Food Code of Conduct, designed to protect workers' basic rights. But mainstream supermarkets have yet to support the program.

Take action today by sending a message to U.S. supermarkets encouraging them to sign on to the Fair Food Program.


Justice Campaigns mobilizes people around the country in support of U.S. policies that will lead to the abolition of human trafficking and modern-day slavery. Join us this summer for Recipe for Change, as we campaign for slave-free tomatoes.